Last March I interviewed for, was offered, and accepted this job: Assistant Professor of English, Anonymous Small, Rural Christian College. March is late in the academic job season, and this was the last possibility on my plate. I’d already decided that I couldn’t handle another year of adjuncting and that I was too restless in the city where I was living. It was time for a change, so either I lived the academic dream at ASRCC, or I went…somewhere else to do something else. Plan B was not entirely nebulous, but it definitely involved crashing on someone’s couch.
So after spending eight years in grad school because I wanted to be an English professor, doing two years of job market trauma, and reaching the end of my adjuncting rope (not to mention adjuncting bank account), there was a whole lot of appeal to the idea of being offered a tenure-track job, even one I knew wasn’t ideal. After all, plenty of my friends and colleagues haven’t been so lucky. And a couple of the features of this job that would have been deal-breakers for a lot of those friends and colleagues didn’t bother me so much.
The location, for instance. After almost a decade in big cities, I wanted something with a slower pace and more space. The fact that I can walk from my house to a country road where I may not see another human for miles remains a perk. So does the lack of traffic. Nevertheless, I miss being closer to my family. I miss my friends. I miss living in a place where not everyone is white, Christian, and straight. I miss my Indian takeout place. I miss my feminist, queer-friendly, social justice-oriented church. Some days the quiet country roads are small compensation for all that.
If your average urban English PhD would be unlikely to move to a small town in the country, far away from any major cities, she would be even less likely to do it for a job at an evangelical college. But I came from that world originally and thought I could handle it. I’m now a second-generation Christian college professor. I did my undergrad at a Christian college. And even though I no longer identify as an evangelical, I’m still a Christian. A lefty, pluralist Episcopalian, to be sure, but, I thought, surely if there wasn’t room for someone like me, they wouldn’t hire me.
And here’s the kicker: back when I was an ambitious college student, becoming a feminist and a socialist and an ex-evangelical, all at an evangelical college, I longed for professors who were like me. I had some great professors, but they were overwhelmingly conservative, middle-aged, white men. There were a few women, and a few people with left-of-center politics, but not in the same person. Even back then, as I was beginning to aspire to an academic career, I thought that someday I might become the kind of professor I didn’t have as an undergraduate. Here was my chance!
Well, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way, and even the moments when I have felt like I’m making a difference in a student’s life don’t do much to balance out the day-in, day-out isolation of being the odd woman out, without a support structure.
So here I am, a year later, employed (against all odds) as an English professor, after putting in a ridiculous amount of time and effort into precisely that goal, and most of the time I’m pretty unhappy. The work itself–full-time teaching, trying to make time for research on the side–is fine, but not as fulfilling as I’d hoped. I don’t think I made a mistake, taking this job a year ago. It’s allowed me to figure out some priorities that I might not have realized if the tenure-track job had remained the elusive goal rather than a concrete reality. It’s allowed me to start to gain some financial stability, after years of living on shoestring grad stipends and adjunct pay. And it’s been an adventure in a lot of ways, and that’s always valuable, I think. But unless something changes to make my situation here more tenable, I do need to start thinking about an exit strategy, and one that probably involves leaving academia.
Hence the blog. I want to organize my thoughts, try to process my current situation and my future possibilities, and I also want to hold myself accountable to making the most of the time I’m here. It would be easy to wallow and be miserable (and I’ve done some of that, to be sure), but I would rather choose to be as happy as I can be.